The pursuit of happiness is not always what it’s cut out to be. Trying to feel happy all the time can actually set us up for disappointment, especially as the nature of happiness is intrinsically fleeting. But I know how challenging it is. When there is stress, suffering or even annoyance, we all long to be free.
This freedom can come from the art of serenity or centeredness, a type of acceptance of self in the face of all circumstances. This is not the same as an acceptance of terrible circumstances like war. It is an acceptance that one is a part of a stressful situation while also making motions to extricate oneself. If you have a stressful, physical ailment as I have had, it would be likely begin a journey that will involve a bit of a dark night of the soul, but which also led to spiritual healing and much wisdom with treatments such as energy work, body meridians and diet change.
When we emotionally struggle against pain, it accentuates the physical pain more. Spiritual acceptance of one’s situation is different from accepting mediocrity. On a holistic level, acceptance raises one’s mood or frequency. It allows a person to step back from the situation and be a witness that we had agreed (prior to birth) to become a part of the human fabric. It also is a realistic acknowledgement of one’s capabilities, and hence an awareness that we have been doing quite good so far and that perhaps we can allow ourselves more space or more intention to improve.
From acceptance, it becomes more natural to move into finding meaning. It is too rushed and even artificial to try to immediately find meaning from suffering or a bad situation. When I heard that my best friend had passed away (in anther country), I went through shock and the many steps in grieving. I only found meaning much later, when I was ready to accept the human learning from it. One key understanding–that she was no longer suffering the pain of kidney disease. The other key understanding–that one deep sister-ship was over, and that I needed to allow energetic space for more spiritual relationships like this, and so there has since indeed been.
Thinking of one special person, thing or place can be the start of finding meaning. A great teacher of this was Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of three holocaust camps including Auschwitz. In one camp, Viktor and the other Jewish prisoners had a meal of only watered-down soup. His fellow inmates often got together and talked about the meals they once had or that they longed for. Frankl chose to skip such moments and instead, spent his lunch time listening to a small music group.
Meaning often does two things, it deepens acceptance and it is an enduring motivator. When he was forced by the guards to do hard labor, he would make the work more tolerable by thinking of his wife, who’d actually died in another holocaust camp, unbeknownst to him. It was from his holocaust camp experience that Frankl wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning” and devised his therapy called “Logotherapy”. The central idea of this practice is to help a client find meaning even in the most dire of situation, and even if the meaning may be small or (oddly!) based on false assumption. Frankl felt great “loving contemplation” for his wife, which gave him the more honourable way to endure suffering.
With motivation, often comes movement towards a goal, be it a more profound acceptance or meeting a challenge. Happiness is often the outcome. Whether it be small joys or great elation, our human psyche and physiology allows us endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to feel such an emotion. For this reason, it is almost impossible to feel happy every hour of the day in a long continuum as our human body can’t produce such hormones on such a continuum. This is a fact even if circumstances were completely blissful and if we were surrounded by wonderful people who were on their best behaviour, all of which just isn’t always the case! On the other hand, the serenity of meditators like the Dai Lama is a little more sustainable. Know that you are precious to the universe and let this be part of your serenity.